A few years ago, I posed the question:
What do you do if someone you know to be a long-time sexist jerk is selected for a position of responsibility in a professional organization that directly impacts the lives of women academics, their funding, and therefore their chances of career advancement?
The context: I was upset to learn that a certain person had been given just such a job, but I felt that there was nothing I could reasonably do about it except feel anxious. The man had already been hired into his new position, and I did not feel that a "Oh by the way, he has a problem treating women (and some men) in a respectful way" note from me to the institution that hired him would do anything but show that I was an oversensitive and possibly vindictive person.
The optimists among us hoped that this position of responsibility would be a 'personal growth' experience for him, and that he would become a more mature and respectful person, as required by his new position. I had known him for >20 years and was skeptical that such a growth/maturity episode was going to occur anytime soon.
That was a few years ago, and now we know how the story turned out. This man did not experience any personal growth, and may even have gotten worse once in a position of power. He was quickly removed from all official roles that involved making decisions about research involving female investigators. His behavior towards women in his new job was apparently deemed unacceptable by the people who worked with him, and they took action to limit the damage. I was very impressed that they did this.
I would have been more impressed if he had not been hired in the first place. This man was hired based on his research record, which was very good, but his appointment to this job had shocked quite a number of people -- women and men -- who had seen him in action over the years at meetings, as a reviewer, as a colleague. It really would not have taken too much effort for his potential employers to find out more about his attitudes and methods of working with other people, an important component of his new job. His behavior in his new job was totally consistent with his mode of operation in the decades before.
And now he's moved on, I know not where.
At some point during this man's time in that particular job, he told a mutual colleague that I had always been very competitive with him, even when we were undergraduates. My apparently long-term competitiveness with him was news to me. When we first met, I didn't even know if I wanted to go to graduate school, and, if I did go to graduate school, I didn't know if I wanted to get a PhD, and even if I did get a PhD, it didn't occur to me to imagine myself at a big university (at the time, I was interested only in possibly teaching at a small liberal arts college). Competitive Sexist Jerk Guy, however, had known he wanted to be a professor at a big university since he was 2 years old. Perhaps he was projecting his own competitiveness and/or his disappointment (bitterness?) at never having the sort of career he wanted, whereas I ended up with that sort of career.
I think he's a sad person with lots of emotional problems that may be far beyond his control, but it's a lot easier for me to feel sorry for him now that he has moved on.
9 months ago